Hot Springs Streetcars
Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,” Judy Garland famously sang about St. Louis trolley cars. The “clang, clang, clang” of the trolley or streetcar was also a familiar sound in Hot Springs. Hot Springs was, in fact, the first community in Arkansas with animal-drawn streetcars and the second with electric streetcars.
In January 1875, the first two wooden streetcars debuted, each drawn by one horse and charging a quarter for five one-way tickets. Soon, two mules were needed to pull each of the popular vehicles, and more cars were added to the fleet of David Butterfield's Hot Springs Railroad Company. With routes originally on Central, Ouachita, Park and Whittington avenues, and later on Malvern and in south Hot Springs, the cars provided much-needed transportation in our growing city. But the cars caused a few problems, as well. During the 1880s, the cars sometimes caused distractions in the streets, for people flagged down the cars wherever they wanted to board, heedless of the inconvenience to the carriages, wagons and horses on the streets. The cars also created clouds of dust, which the city constantly complained that the company should prevent by more frequent watering down of the rail beds.
In 1893, the streetcar company was purchased by Samuel Fordyce, S.H. Stitt, and Charles Maurice. They updated the equipment and laid new tracks with over- head wires that powered the first electric streetcars here. By 1900, the population of 10,000 was making heavy use of the electric streetcars, which continued to be a source of dust clouds until Hot Springs streets were paved starting in 1902.
The “Moonlight Ride” was a popular feature offered by the company. A 50-passenger car, decked out with brightly colored lights, would pick up passengers on Whittington and follow the rails until the last passengers were ready to go home. Clubs and church groups filled these special evening cars, and sometimes bands were aboard to serenade the passengers. And each racing season, a fleet of streetcars was assigned to ferry racing fans to Oaklawn Park.
When the 60-block fire of 1913 destroyed the electric power plant, Hot Springs seemed to be without public transportation at a critical moment. However, mules were quickly brought back to pulls the cars while the power plant was rebuilt and the power lines replaced.
The popularity of the automobile and the nationwide trend to implement bus systems finally doomed the electric streetcar. On Oct. 16, 1938, the electric street cars were officially retired as eight 21 passenger automotive buses went into service. The trolley tracks were eventually removed. An era had passed, and Hot Springs streets no longer echoed with the “clang, clang, clang” of the trolley.
Above, a streetcar comes down Central Avenue toward Bridge Street, early 1900s.